Portrait of Grace Elliot by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1778 (in the Frick Collection)
|Known for||mistress of the Louis Philip II, Duke of Orléans|
Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754–1823) was a Scottish courtesan and spy who resided in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Elliott was an eyewitness to events which she detailed in her memoirs, Journal of My Life during the French Revolution (Ma Vie Sous La Révolution) published posthumously in 1859. During her lifetime she also served as the mistress to the Duke of Orléans, and the future George IV, by whom she is said to have born an illegitimate daughter. Elliott trafficked correspondence and hid French aristocrats wishing to escape the French Revolution. She was arrested several times but managed to avoid the guillotine and was released after the death of Robespierre.
She was the youngest daughter of Hew Dalrymple, an Edinburgh advocate concerned in the great Douglas case, who was an LL.D. in 1771, and died in 1774. She was born about 1754. Her mother, on being left by her husband, had rejoined her parents, in whose house Grace was born. She was educated in a French convent and was introduced by her father on her return into Edinburgh society. Her beauty made such an impression on John Elliott, a prominent and wealthy physician, that he made her an offer of marriage in 1771. Although Elliott was roughly 20 years her senior, his proposal was accepted. The couple entered fashionable society, though eventually grew apart due to their difference in age and interests. In 1774 Elliott met and fell in love with Lord Valentia, with whom she entered into an affair. Convinced of his wife's infidelities, John Elliott had the couple followed and eventually sued Valentia for Criminal Conversation, (adultery). He received £12,000 in damages before successfully obtaining a divorce. With her reputation in tatters,Grace became recognised as a member of the demimonde and was forced to earn her living as a professional mistress, or courtesan. She was then taken by her brother to a French convent, but seems to have been brought back almost immediately by Lord Cholmondeley,who became her lover and who remained one of her principle protectors throughout her life.
Life in England
She met Lord Cholmondeley at the Pantheon in 1776. They began a liaison that lasted three years. Thomas Gainsborough painted her portrait in 1778, which is in the Frick Collection in New York City. In 1782, she had a quiet and short intrigue with the Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV), and gave birth on 30 March 1782 to a daughter who used the name Georgina Seymour (1782–1813), but was baptised at St Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour.
Grace declared that the Prince was the father of her child and The Morning Post said in January 1782 that he admitted responsibility. However, when the child, who was very dark, was first shown to the Prince he is said to have remarked, "To convince me that this is my girl they must first prove that black is white."
The Prince and many others regarded Lord Cholmondeley as the father, though the Prince's friends said that Charles William Wyndham (brother of Lord Egremont), whom she was thought to resemble, claimed paternity. Yet others thought she might have been fathered by George Selwyn. Lord Cholmondeley brought up the girl and, after her early death in 1813, looked after her only child.
Life in France. French Revolution
George, Prince of Wales, introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans in 1784 and by 1786, she had permanently set up residence in Paris and become one of Orleans' recognised mistresses. In exchange for her companionship, the Duke granted her a home on the Rue Miromesnil and a property in Meudon, to the south of Paris. During this period Elliott also pursued liaisons with the Duke de Fitz-James and the Prince of Conde.
Much of what is known about Grace's life in France has been recorded in her memoirs, Journal of My Life During The French Revolution. Although there are a number of inconsistencies in her account, her work has become one of the best known English language accounts of The Terror and documents the movements of the Duke D'Orleans and those within his aristocratic Jacobin circle at the Palais Royal. During her life in Paris, Elliott witnessed the horror of the September Massacres and the body of the Princess de Lamballe carried through the streets. Although Elliott was an associate of the Duke d'Orleans (who later took the name Philippe Égalité) her royalist sympathies soon became widely known throughout her district and her home was frequently searched during the programme of domiciliary visits. It has been recently proven that Elliott was trafficking correspondence on behalf of the British government and assisting in the transportation of messages between Paris and members of the exiled French court in Coblenz and in Belgium.
On several occasions, Elliott risked her life to assist and hide aristocrats who were being pursued by the Revolutionary government. Shortly after the Assault on the Tuileries Palace, on 10 August 1792, Elliott hid the injured Marquis de Champcenetz by physically carrying him to her house on the Rue Miromesnil, at great risk. During a search of her home, she placed him between the mattresses of her bed and feigned illness. On another occasion, Elliott agreed to take in and hide Madame de Perigord and her two children at her home in Meudon, who were attempting to flee to England. Elliott was instrumental in arranging false travel documents for those wishing to escape the Revolution and after hiding Champcentz in the attic of her home in Meudon, she was able to orchestrate his passage out of France. In the Spring of 1793 Elliott was arrested and imprisoned and spent the rest of the Terror incarcerated at several prisons, including the Recollets and the Carmes, where claims to have met Josephine Beauharnais, though this assertion has been questioned by historians. Elliott details her harrowing experiences in prison, the violent coercion she experienced, as well as the illness and deprivation endured by her fellow prisoners.
Although many of her friends met their deaths including Madame du Barry, Grace did not. She narrowly avoided death and was released after the Reign of Terror came to an end. She had been confined in total to four different prisons by the republican government. In later years, rumour had it that she has an attachment with Napoleon Bonaparte, but had rejected his offer of marriage. She died a wealthy woman at Ville d'Avray, in present-day Hauts-de-Seine in May 1823, while lodger of the commune's mayor.
- Elliott, Grace Dalrymple (2011) , During the reign of terror : journal of my life during the French revolution, ISBN 9781230200811
Depictions in film and literature
Grace Elliott also appears as a major character in Hallie Rubenhold's novel The French Lesson (Doubleday, 2016).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Alger, John Goldworth (1889). "Elliott, Grace Dalrymple". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 17. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Major, Joanne; Murden, Sarah (2016), An infamous mistress : the life, loves and family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Pen & Sword History, ISBN 1473844835
- Camp, Anthony J (2007), Royal mistresses and bastards : fact and fiction 1714-1936, A.J. Camp, ISBN 0950330825
- Manning, Jo (2005), My lady scandalous : the amazing life and outrageous times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, royal courtesan, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 9780743262620
- Bleackley, Horace (1909), Ladies fair and frail; sketches of the demi-monde during the eighteenth century, London, J. Lane New York, J. Lane Co, OCLC 1523626
- Grace Elliott's portrait by Thomas Gainsborough at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
- During the Reign of Terror: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, fulltext of Grace Dalrymple Elliott's autobiography, 1910 edition]
- An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott (2016) by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden